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Metamorphic Skull Illusions

Holbein's Ambassadors

Representation of the human skull has a long and rich tradition in the history of art. The stark symbol of man’s mortality holds a perennial fascination for artists who return to it time and again down the generations. And viewers too. I mean come on, who doesn’t like a good skull picture?

One of the more intriguing ways that skulls have appeared in art is the surreptitious inclusion of a skull in a piece of work as an optical illusion, often in the form of an ambiguous image. It’s something that really gained popularity in the 19th century and continues to appeal to the imagination to this day.

Okay, grab a coffee and let’s take a look at some surreptitious skulls in the form of metamorphic optical illusions…

The Ambassadors

Probably the great-grandfather of the skull sneakily hidden in the picture is Holbein’s Ambassadors. Painted in the 16th century by German artist Hans Holbein the Younger, it really is a hell of a picture. Kind of a double portrait and a still life at the same time, there’s a lot going on in it. It’s bursting with symbolism and hidden meaning, everything is ripe for interpretation and it’s no wonder there’s a certain air of mystery around the painting. Oh, and as if that wasn’t enough, there’s this great big shape across the bottom. But not just any old big weird shape- an anamorphic skull. A skull set in such crazy perspective that only when the viewer approaches the painting from the side will they see the form morph into an accurate rendering of a human skull.

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

And the skull looks like this from the side.

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

All Is Vanity

Charles Allan Gilbert drew All is Vanity in 1892 when he was only eighteen. He sold it to Life Publishing in 1902 and the image subsequently spread all over the world in postcard form. Since then it has spawned countless imitations but the original continues to be the source of inspiration for artists to the present day.

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

All Is Vanity by Charles Allan Gilbert

Postcards And Prints

Things really kicked off in the late 19th and early 20th century with postcards of ambiguous images of skulls being the in thing.

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

L’amour de Pierrot, 1905.

This metamorphic postcard of women making wine was published by A F Laglau of Toulousse.

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

La Guerre No. 40 – Tete Macabre de Guillaume.

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

Au Revoir, circa 1905-1910.

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

S(K)UL(L)TUR, circa 1910.

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

Unknown postcard, circa 1905-1910.

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

Today And Tomorrow, 1908 by HM Rose.

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

Die geheimnisvolle Badezelle, circa 1905-1910.

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

La vie et la mort – circa 1908.

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

Unidentified postcard.

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

La tete de mort!, 1910.

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

Russian postcard, dated 1820.

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

Tete de mort

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

Unidentified postcard from 1909.

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

Blossom And Decay, circa 1870.

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

Skull And Gondola

Dali

Of course, Salvador Dali was a master of this kind of pictorial illusion.

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

In Voluptate Mors, Salvador Dalí & Philippe Halsman, 1951.

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

Ballerina In A Deaths-Head, Salvador Dali, 1939.

Contemporary Metamorphic Skull Art

So the grand tradition of metamorphic skulls continues down to today.

Tom French

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

Hungarian artist 1951, Istvan Orosz works in a broad range of media. Every single one of his medieval-looking etchings from the series Ship Of Fools contains a hidden skull.

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

Metamorphic Skull Illusions

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